More than half a century after the assassination of Malcolm X, two of his convicted killers have been exonerated after decades of doubt about who was responsible for the civil rights leader’s death.
A Manhattan judge dismissed the convictions of Muhammad Aziz and the late Khalil Islam after prosecutors and the men’s lawyers said a renewed investigation found new evidence that the men were not involved with the killing and determined that authorities withheld some of what they knew.
“The event that has brought us to court today should never have occurred,” Aziz, 83, told the court.
He and Islam, who maintained their innocence from the start in the 1965 killing at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom, were paroled in the 1980s. Islam died in 2009.
Malcolm X gained national prominence as the voice of the Nation of Islam, exhorting black people to claim their civil rights “by any means necessary”.
His autobiography, written with Alex Haley, remains a classic work of modern American literature.
Near the end of Malcolm X’s life, he split with the Black Muslim organisation and, after a trip to Mecca, started speaking about the potential for racial unity.
It earned him the ire of some in the Nation of Islam, who saw him as a traitor.
He was shot dead while beginning a speech on February 21, 1965. He was 39.
Aziz and Islam, then known as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, and a third man were convicted of murder in March 1966. They were sentenced to life in prison.
The third man, Mujahid Abdul Halim — also known as Talmadge Hayer and Thomas Hagan — admitted to shooting Malcolm X but said neither Aziz nor Islam was involved.
The two offered alibis, and no physical evidence linked them to the crime.
Halim was paroled in 2010. Through a relative, he declined to comment on Thursday. He identified some other men as accomplices.
The recent reinvestigation found evidence that included orders from former FBI director J Edgar Hoover himself telling witnesses not to identify themselves as informants to the police or defence, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr told the court.
“I apologise for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust,” he said.